Court Rejects Lawsuit Against Israeli Cafe Chain for Setting Up Unisex Bathrooms

Class action suit against popular chain Aroma, filed by four women who say they feel uncomfortable using stall after men, was rejected due to potential harm to transgender community

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A rainbow flag banner hangs in front of Aroma Cafe in Tel Aviv during Pride month, 2018.
A rainbow flag banner hangs in front of Aroma Cafe in Tel Aviv during Pride month, 2018. Credit: Eyal Toueg

The Tel Aviv District Court refused to allow a class action suit against the Aroma café chain for setting up unisex bathrooms suitable for transgender or non-binary customers.

Judge Rahamim Cohen said that Aroma’s action did not adversely affect other customers, and that potential harm to the transgender community should be taken into account. The judge accepted the position taken by Aroma, the Maavarim organization of LGBTQ communities, the Gila Project for transgender empowerment, the LGBT Task Force (Aguda) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Experts say that this ruling will preclude the filing of class action lawsuits by customers at restaurants and cafes that offer undifferentiated toilets. In recent years, 20 such lawsuits have been filed that were settled by a compromise.

Four women seeking to file such a suit against Aroma argued that unisex bathrooms affect women who need to enter a stall previously used by a man, which creates discomfort, is unhygienic and an assault on their dignity, all of which warrant compensation. They also argued that the chain is violating business registration regulations, under which “restaurants and cafes must provide separate bathrooms for men and women.”

The women also argued that the transgender community is, “A minor and totally negligible group compared to the population as a whole.”

In rejecting the suit, Cohen said the plaintiffs had not proven that any damage had been caused to the female population. The plaintiffs’ arguments, he said, are “generalizations that do not have a scientific or professional basis, but rely on perceptions and prejudices.”

The judge backed the position of the LGBTQ rights organizations, who argued that access to bathrooms is a particularly important issue for this community, due to the hostility toward them by some of the public. Their position was backed by affidavits submitted by transgender men and women who had difficult experiences using separate bathrooms.

According to the judge, “Against the damage suffered by the appellants, expressed as discomfort, one must weigh the harm that could be done to other groups, like transgender people and those without gender identity.”

The attorneys representing the transgender groups as friends of the court said, “Transgender people suffer daily abuse and even violence in gender-defined bathrooms ... ‘Unisex’ stalls are an excellent solution for them and other groups, like parents accompanying their children to the bathroom or aides assisting the elderly.”

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